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Ask the AYP: Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

This comment came through on the AYP this week.

I have very little trouble getting up. Trouble begins when I hit my mat. I find it very difficult to keep myself going in my home practice. It just doesn’t flow in the same way. Every asana is a struggle and a negotiation with myself to just do one more. Would love any advice anyone has on this particular struggle…. 🙂K.


I used to be a home practitioner. I am not going to lie. It is extremely difficult. Like you, I had no problems getting on my mat, but once I got there, my energy and enthusiasm waned.  This is what helped me.


Let go of expectations

At some point, I just decided to accept that this is what happens on my mat when I am at home. Home is a place where I chill. Where I hang out. When I walk in, the weight of my day is lifted from my shoulders.  As much as a wanted to have that revved up excited energy in my practice room, it wasn’t happening. I accepted it.

The rule of 3

I don’t know where the “try it 3 times” thing came from but I lived by it and took it a little bit further.  If my poses and practice started to feel like a negotiation, I would only negotiate 3 times and then I would let it go. For example, If Mari B, Mari D and Kurmasana were all a shit show, I would stop and close out.  The energy of frustration that I had was counter to yoga. I was doing more harm then good.  Instead of cessating my mind, which is what the Yoga Sutras tells us to work toward, my mind would be spiraling out.  It was better for me to let it go and try again tomorrow.

Stop and work It

Some days, I would focus on one pose. It was the only way, at the time, that I could break through plateaus.  For example, on some days, if I got to a pose, say Pasasana, and it was a shit show, I would forget about the rest of my practice and stop and work Pasasana. I would do anything I could think of that would help me prepare for it.  Twisting exercises on the wall, squats, and shoulder openers. I would do Pasasana multiple times and take a break in between. After I was satisfied with it, I would close out.

Don’t stop, just go

On other days, I just worked on flowing through vinyasa. I would just accept the pose for what it was, hold it 5 breaths and keep going.


I basically went back and forth between the rule of 3, stop and work it and don’t stop, just go.  This created a bit of variety which helped to keep me motivated.

The online community

When I was a home practitioner, online resources were just beginning to get popular. I absolutely, and still do, adore Kino MacGregor.  Her videos helped me, and still do, to break through plateaus.  I sometimes used her YouTube videos on my, “stop and work it” days. There are even more resources out there today.  OmStars provides a plethora of Ashtanga courses and pose break down tutorials.  I mention them because I am familiar with the platform and I trust Kino’s instruction.  Try out different ones and use what works for you. If these would have been around during my home practitioner days, I definitely would have used them.

The online community can also help with dealing with the isolation of home practice. I have made so many wonderful friends from Face Book. I met many of them face to face studying with Sharath in India and in Miami! It was so fun! Felt like a reunion.

Make friends, however….

I caution against taking random advice from random people.  After awhile, you will start to get to know people online and you will be able to figure out who you can trust. There are very few people that I take Ashtanga advice from on the internet. Like, I can count them on one hand.

It is similar to picking a living breathing teacher.  You have to know that this person practices what they preach, has an ample amount of experience and that they don’t have ulterior motives. For instance, I know a few people who wrote articles about how Ashtanga hurts you right before launching their alignment workshops and books.  I know some people who started talking about how they change Ashtanga up, right before they launched their own style of yoga.  I know people who talk bad about other teachers, so they can talk up their own. Just be on the look out for that.

Also be on the look out for people who never have anything positive to say.  All their comments and posts are nasty, accusatory or bitchy. Stay away from websites that only write negative articles…even if the articles are so called for the good of humanity. For example, this week they write about racism. Next week they write about yoga injuries. Next article is on sexual assault. Next week about the teacher that hurt them. Not that this stuff does not need to be talked about but it often points to sensationalism (or just an extremely hurt bitter person) because yoga is a beautiful positive thing. Why wouldn’t they be able to find something good to write about it at some point?

Check out the source. Don’t assume. Going back to the person that was starting their own style of yoga.  My first inkling that, something was amiss, was that they were saying things that directly contradicted their own earlier writing and all the archival videos on the web from Pattabhi Jois.  Something had to have happened to change their opinion like that but they were not addressing that. They were just talking about how things should change and that it did not go against Jois’s teachings. However, it did, which was easily proven. When I showed the evidence, they got very defensive.  I dropped it but I became very skeptical of any of the information this person put out afterwards. Sure enough, a month or so later, they introduced their new style based on Ashtanga.

Listen, I have nothing against people starting their own styles of yoga. When you have to bash one in order to make yours look good..well..flags go up for me. I teach another style of yoga, in addition to Ashtanga.  What you will not see me doing is going to Ashtanga boards and blogs and talking about that style of yoga. It is a respect thing. I respect what Ashtanga has done to change people’s lives and they should be free to have their own journey. I wouldn’t go to a Muslim mosque and talk about Christianity. That is their space and their safe haven.  I digress.

Also, people giving scientific evidence or heavy anatomy evidence. Most yoga studies are not scientifically sound.  Meaning the control groups are not sufficient, the amount of time studied is not sufficient  and they are backed by biased people. As far as anatomy, everyone I know, who has spent decades studying anatomy say, “it depends” because they know that everything does not apply to everyone and they can’t know what applies without seeing you first.

And lastly, goodness, this is a long section, it is important though. Many home practitioners are turning to the web so this stuff needs to be said.  Without seeing you practice and knowing your story, people cannot really know what is going on with you. Build trust and learn from the people you trust. Take everything else with a grain of salt.

Get out sometimes

Sometimes, you have to plan an outing. Go to a studio, yes, even a non Ashtanga one….occasionally. Go to workshops in other states. Go to India. Whatever. Just get out of the house. Vibe with your people. Learn some new tricks. Freshen up your practice. If there is an Ashtanga community, within an hour of you, get there once a week.  Like, do you know how lucky you are to have a place that close to you?  I know it is far but man, you are lucky. Utilize them. Make a day trip out of it. We have a guy who drives an hour to Charlotte once a week and he makes a day of it. He gets breakfast. Shops if he needs to. Feels luxurious. If someone is two hours from you, do it once a month and make it a day trip. Even take your family or friends. Utilize these resources.


Yep. So bad lady, bad man and not method. Sometimes, though, it does the trick. When you can barely even make it through Sun Sals, turn on the tunes.

Set up your space

Make it feel like a yoga studio…if you can. Get all the gadgets and gimmicks. Get heaters and humidifiers. Put up a mural.  Get hardwoods. Whatever you can afford and spare. Make it feel like a different place from the rest of your house.

Set up yourself

Put on actual yoga clothes. Yes. Put your hair in your normal yoga hair style. Make it feel like you are going somewhere or doing something important or special. It is kind of like putting on lingerie. It helps you to feel ready!

Lights, camera, action

I still practice at home a few days a week. When I do, I put up a camera, tripod and even soft box lights. Yes. I even have a mic. I never use it though. You don’t have to share the footage, but something about the idea that I am going to share some of the footage on social media, makes me want to do my best. It hypes me up a little bit. Gives me some energy to get “er done.

Recording your practice is also a great feedback mechanism. You can see where you need to work in your practice.  I thought my leg was straight in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana…until I videoed it. Good lord. This alone makes you want to do better.  The thought that you have to look back at that video and look at your wonky leg.  I have seen things that even my living, breathing teachers have never told me.  Video can be a game changer. Video is unforgiving, impartial and it does not care about your feelings.  It just shows you what is. Something that even a good teacher can be afraid to do.

Practice with friends

If there are some people in your town who practice at home, tell them they can come to your place at 0: dark 30 and practice with you.  Even if you don’t practice together, these friends can also hold you accountable. They can send you a text, “did you practice today?” You can then have an open and honest dialogue about your feelings and your practice.  This is very supportive and nurturing…as long as your friends are supportive and nurturing. Choose well.

Find THE teacher

They don’t have to live near you. Just find someone you check in with a minimum of once a year. Look at it as a well body check up. You want to make sure you are not starting any habits that may cause injury or plateaus. This trip will also light up your practice and it is just plain fun and exciting.

Why THE teacher? This person will build a relationship with you and they will be charting your practice over time. It needs to be one person that you can trust.  Also, get the person’s email address and use them as a resource for questions.  If this person is Sharath, who probably is not going to email back and forth with you, you will have to find 2 THE teachers LOL.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail